Montgomery: The state’s top health official said Friday that he and his colleagues are “intensely frustrated” as COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise, a surge he partly attributed to people who have refused to get vaccinated or change their behavior. The state is grappling with an intensive care unit bed shortage, and federal medical teams and mobile morgue units have been sent to hospitals in the South. “We are really in a crisis,” Health Officer Scott Harris said during his Friday briefing. “We’ve said that over and over for several weeks. We need people to understand that you, yourself – if you’re hearing these words – you’re the person who’s going to make a difference. You need to be responsible for your behavior. You need to do what it takes to not continue this situation. I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be able to do this.” Alabama ranks fourth for new cases per capita and continues to have one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. “So much of what we’re seeing is preventable,” Harris said. “We’re seeing this because people don’t want to get vaccinated, and they don’t want to change their behavior. They would rather have an argument about masks than have an argument about how we keep our children safe or how do we protect Alabama hospitals. It is very frustrating for all of us.”
Anchorage: The state last week reported its highest daily number of resident COVID-19 cases so far this year as health officials struggle to keep pace with coronavirus testing and contact tracing and as hospitals juggle a surge in patients with staff shortages and admissions for other conditions. Gov. Mike Dunleavy and members of his administration on Thursday announced plans aimed at increasing staffing to help with COVID-19 cases, including speeding the licensing process for health care workers and seeking federal contracts for more workers, the Anchorage Daily News reports. The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said hospital staffing is a concern. Alaska reported 701 resident COVID-19 cases Thursday – one of the highest daily tallies since the start of the pandemic. That number may be lower than the real number of infections, health officials said, because of testing and contact tracing backlogs. According to the state hospital association, hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19 are nearing pandemic highs. Combined with staff shortages and busy summertime admissions, Alaska’s health care system faces the threat of being overwhelmed, providers and state officials said. Health care providers are deciding which patients get intensive care unit beds and are struggling to transfer severely ill patients elsewhere.
Phoenix: The Arizona Supreme Court is eliminating the long-standing practice of allowing lawyers in criminal and civil trials in state courts to remove potential jurors without explanation, a move that proponents said would help prevent discrimination in the selection of trial jurors. So-called peremptory challenges will end Jan. 1, under a groundbreaking rule change ordered Tuesday and released Friday by the state’s highest court. In the meantime, a court task force will recommend possible changes to current court rules that also allow opposing sides in trials to ask judges to remove potential jurors for valid reasons such as stated bias or inability to serve, the order said. Peremptory challenges are a hot-button legal issue nationally, as illustrated by jury selection in the trial that resulted in the conviction of a former Minneapolis police officer in George Floyd’s death. Robert Chang, a Seattle University law professor, said he believed Arizona’s impending outright elimination of peremptory challenges is believed to be a first such step by a U.S. state, though others such as Washington and California have placed new restrictions on the challenges. “Arizona clearly has gone further,” said Chang, the director of a legal center that endorsed a competing Arizona rule-change proposal to restrict but not eliminate peremptory challenges.
Little Rock: More than 3,100 active coronavirus cases have been reported in Arkansas public schools among students and employees, according to newly released numbers from the state. Most students returned to the classroom last week, and the majority of public school students attend districts that are requiring masks. Such rules emerged after a judge in Little Rock temporarily blocked a state law that bans mask mandates in schools and public places. The Arkansas Department of Health’s latest report on schools, released Thursday, found 3,102 active cases in 173 school districts in the state. The Bentonville, Springdale, Rogers, Cabot and Fort Smith districts all reported more than 100 active cases among students, faculty and staff. A week ago, the state reported just under 1,800 active cases at schools. Meanwhile, a judge in Lonoke County on Friday ruled against a group of parents who sued to block Cabot schools’ mask requirement. Circuit Judge Barbara Elmore wrote that most of the parents who sued had already received mask exemptions for their children or withdrawn them from the district, so she denied their request to block the requirement. Arkansas ranks fifth in the country for new virus cases per capita, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
Calabasas: A mountain lion that attacked a 5-year-old boy and dragged the child across his front lawn was shot and killed by a wildlife officer, authorities said Saturday. The 65-pound mountain lion attacked the boy while he was playing near his house Thursday in Calabasas and “dragged him about 45 yards” across the lawn, said Capt. Patrick Foy, a spokesman with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The boy suffered significant traumatic injuries to his head and upper torso but was in stable condition at a Los Angeles hospital, Foy said. “The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” Foy said. The mother was inside the house when she heard commotion outside. “She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” he said. The parents immediately drove the boy to the hospital, where law enforcement was notified of the attack and sent a wildlife officer to the scene. Once at the house, the officer discovered a mountain lion crouching in the bushes with its “ears back and hissing” at him, Foy said. Subsequent DNA tests confirmed that the lion was the one responsible for attacking the child, the wildlife department said in a statement.
Boulder: Jurors convicted two former sheriff’s deputies accused of causing the death of an intoxicated man by placing him on his stomach and squeezing him into a van to take him to a detox center. Former Boulder County sheriff’s deputies James O’Brien, 52, and Adam Lunn, 39, were found guilty Friday of manslaughter in the death of Demetrius Shankling, 23, in 2018, the Longmont Times-Call reports. According to an arrest affidavit, they put the 6-foot-tall man, with his hands behind his back, in a compartment that was less than 5 feet long. O’Brien and Lunn had to press on the compartment door to close it, causing Shankling’s leg to get wedged against the inside of the door, the affidavit said. When they reached the detox center the early hours of Sept. 9, 2018, Shankling was unresponsive and not breathing. He died after spending 27 days in a coma, Senior Deputy District Attorney Christian Gardner-Wood said. An autopsy found that Shankling died of suffocation because of his positioning, with alcohol and amphetamine as contributing factors.
Hartford: The state’s plan for using $110 million in federal pandemic relief funds to reopen K-12 schools for in-person learning, while addressing the effects of lost instructional time last school year and reducing education gaps over the long term, has been approved by the federal government, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Friday. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education on Thursday released the remaining $369 million in federal pandemic relief funds for education to the state. With this latest batch, Connecticut will have received approximately $1.1 billion under the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, according to federal figures. The state previously received $737 million in March. When combined with other federal COVID-19 relief funds for education, Connecticut has received roughly $1.7 billion since the start of the pandemic, according to the state Department of Education. “This historic level of funding allows us, as one educational community, to be bold and innovative as we forge our path to a transformative and equitable recovery,” Connecticut Department of Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker said in a statement.
Wilmington: Officials are now asking New Castle County residents to “squish on sight” if they see an invasive spotted lanternfly. The county’s population of the bug has surpassed the level for which the Delaware Department of Agriculture recommends reporting, Delaware State News reports. In Kent and Sussex counties, officials are still asking those who spot adult lanternflies to report them for verification. Spotted lanternflies pose a risk to the grape, orchard, nursery and landscape, and hardwood industries, Stephen Hauss, an environmental scientist with the state Department of Agriculture’s Plant Industries Section, told the newspaper. Native to China, India and Vietnam, the insect is about 1 inch long and half an inch wide at rest. Its forewings are gray with black spots, and the hindwings are red with black spots. The insect was first found in North America in 2014. The first one in Delaware was spotted in 2017, Hauss told the newspaper. Between 2018 and 2019, the insect’s numbers took off, especially in New Castle County.
District of Columbia
Washington: Thousands of voting rights advocates rallied across the country Saturday to call for sweeping federal laws that would wipe out voting restrictions advancing in some GOP-controlled states that could make it harder to cast a ballot. The rallies, held in dozens of cities, were intended to increase pressure on Democrats to rewrite procedural rules that would allow Democrats to pass the legislation without Republican votes. But they were also aimed at coaxing President Joe Biden to become a more forceful advocate on the issue. “You said the night you won that Black America had your back and that you were going to have Black Americans’ backs,” the Rev. Al Sharpton, who helped organize the national demonstrations, said at a rally in Washington. “Well, Mr. President, they’re stabbing us in the back.” More than a thousand people turned out in sweltering heat on the National Mall on Saturday, the 58th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. His son Martin Luther King III used the occasion to call on the Senate to scrap the filibuster rule. “Our country is backsliding to the unconscionable days of Jim Crow. And some of our senators are saying, ‘Well, we can’t overcome the filibuster,’ ” King told the crowd. “I say to you today: Get rid of the filibuster. That is a monument to white supremacy we must tear down.”
Orlando: Mounting deaths from the latest COVID-19 surge have strained capacity at hospital morgues and funeral homes across central Florida. While the state’s record levels of new cases and hospitalizations for the disease have leveled off over the past week, averages of daily reported deaths have continued to climb. Hospitals across Florida have reported to the federal government that roughly 279 patients have died every day for the past week, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, though that figure includes deaths suspected, but not yet confirmed, to have been from COVID-19. The figure just a month ago was 52 deaths per day. AdventHealth’s hospitals in central Florida are scrambling to secure additional resources to deal with the surge in deaths, said the hospital group’s spokesperson, Jeff Granger. The Orlando Sentinel reports the health system had reached morgue capacity at 10 of its hospitals in five counties: Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole and Volusia. “We have begun utilizing rented, refrigerated coolers at 10 of our campuses,” the hospital group said in an email obtained by the newspaper. “These coolers are quickly becoming filled also.” Funeral directors also warned that their facilities are being overwhelmed, according to numerous news outlets.
Atlanta: A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a lower court’s ruling that said requiring voters to provide their own stamps for mail-in ballots and ballot applications does not amount to an unconstitutional poll tax. The American Civil Liberties Union and its Georgia chapter filed a lawsuit in April 2020 saying that Georgia’s postage requirement for absentee ballots and ballot applications effectively imposes a poll tax and is therefore unconstitutional. The challenge was brought on behalf of voters and a group seeking to empower communities of color, the Black Voters Matter Fund. “We hold that the fact that absentee voters in Georgia who decide to vote by mail must pay their own postage is not a ‘tax’ or unconstitutional fee on voting,” Circuit Judge Elizabeth Branch wrote in the opinion for a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That affirmed an August 2020 ruling by U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg in Atlanta. “We are disappointed in the outcome. The ACLU of Georgia will continue to protect the sacred fundamental right to vote,” ACLU of Georgia legal director Sean Young said. Totenberg had acknowledged the potential difficulties of in-person voting, particularly during the pandemic, but said the fact that it’s available means the postage requirement is not tantamount to an unconstitutional poll tax.
Honolulu: In an effort to address vaccine hesitancy, a group of businesses and nonprofits launched a public service campaign Thursday aimed at Native Hawaiians, many of whom harbor a deep distrust of the government dating back to the U.S.-supported overthrow of the monarchy in 1893. The campaign reminds Hawaiians that they were nearly wiped out by disease in the 1800s and that the kingdom’s rulers at the time pushed people to get vaccinated against smallpox. About 20 Hawaiian leaders stood in rows 6 feet apart Thursday at a statue of Queen Lili’uokalani, the kingdom’s last monarch, imploring people to wear masks and get vaccinated to ensure the survival of the Indigenous people of Hawaii. Meanwhile, as visitors continue to fly to Hawaii and locals go about their business, state officials say the islands may need to go into lockdown if the surge in coronavirus cases linked to the delta variant continues. County mayors are asking for more restrictions, and Gov. David Ige told Hawaii News Now on Thursday that strict mandates are being considered. If case counts continue to rise, “and we push the hospitals across that line, then we will have to go to more extreme measures, lockdowns and potentially shutting businesses,” Ige said.
Boise: Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin has been ordered to turn over several public documents regarding her education task force to journalists after a judge found she had no legitimate reason to withhold the materials. In a scathing ruling Thursday, 4th District Judge Steven Hippler said McGeachin’s attempts at withholding the documents from public view were so baseless and frivolous that her office should pay the Idaho Press Club’s legal fees plus an additional $750 penalty. “If public officials were required to disclose public records only to those, including media, they believe will support the government’s actions, we will have shed the principals of our democracy and evolved into an autocratic state where criticism of public officials is not permitted,” Hippler wrote. The Idaho Press Club sued McGeachin in July, after several journalists said they were wrongly denied access to public records about her newly created Education Task Force charged with investigating alleged “indoctrination” in the state’s public school system. McGeachin’s office responded to some of the requests well past the time limits set by state law and denied many of the records under a variety of exemptions, some so irrelevant – including one specific to fishing and hunting licenses – that it appeared she “may have blindly selected them at random,” the judge wrote.
Chicago: City officials on Friday accused DoorDash and Grubhub of harming restaurants and their customers by charging high fees and through other deceptive practices when delivery and takeout business became essential to the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The officials believe their lawsuits against the delivery companies are the most sweeping of their kind brought by a city. “It is deeply concerning and unfortunate that these companies broke the law during these incredibly difficult times, using unfair and deceptive tactics to take advantage of restaurants and consumers who were struggling to stay afloat,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. Representatives for the two companies called the lawsuits filed Friday in Cook County Circuit Court “baseless.” Delivery companies have been the target of legal authorities in other cities and states before, but those efforts have targeted specific policies, compared to Chicago’s attack on numerous elements of the companies’ operations. According to the lawsuits, both companies advertise delivery services for restaurants without their agreement, hurting the businesses’ reputation when customers are unhappy about the cost or service. City investigators also found that they charge higher prices than restaurants set on their own menus and charge more fees than initially disclosed.
Peru: A statue of a top Indiana suffragist has been erected outside the library where she trained and organized other activists for women’s right to vote. The bronze likeness of Marie Stuart Edwards was unveiled Thursday at the Peru Public Library, where Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Edwards’ two grandsons spoke about her dedication to the cause. The statue depicts a young Edwards standing by her bicycle and wearing a wide-brimmed hat, gazing into the distance with a look of determination, the Kokomo Tribune reports. Crouch said women like Edwards made it possible for her to become the state’s second in command. “We here in this crowd are able to participate in the democratic process, all of us, because of Marie Stewart Edwards,” she said. “We have her, and all that she did and all that she stood for, to thank for our ability to stand here as equals.” In February 1920, Edwards helped found the nationwide League of Women Voters. Within a year, about 2 million women had joined the nonpartisan organization that pushed to educate women about their new rights as voters. Congress passed the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote in August 1920. Work on the $105,000 statue and pocket park surrounding it began after Rediscover Downtown Peru was awarded a $35,000 grant last year to help pay for the project.
Des Moines: The state’s chief justice on Friday signed an order making masks mandatory in areas controlled by the courts, a contrast to a state law that bans similar mandates in public schools where children have resumed classes amid rising numbers of coronavirus cases. The order signed by Chief Justice Susan Christensen said all people entering court-controlled areas must wear a face covering regardless of vaccination status. “This requirement applies statewide and does not depend on a particular county’s or area’s positivity rate or transmission status,” Christensen wrote. She said the Iowa Supreme Court reviewed recent revisions to the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding mask-wearing in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. The order contradicts Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ long-term policy against mask mandates. In May, she signed a law that bans cities, counties and school districts from requiring masks. Reynolds has been put on notice by U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, who said in a letter last week that the Iowa law is “against science-based strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19.” Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden after receiving the letter and suggested the CDC has no scientific proof masks stop the spread of COVID-19.
Topeka: A state agency is pushing to process hundreds of applications for coronavirus relief funds from renters facing eviction and their landlords after spending weeks this spring hiring and training more than 100 new employees to do the work. The state’s Housing Resources Corporation is handling the bulk of the emergency rental assistance in Kansas, and most of its money hasn’t yet been distributed. Questions about how quickly tenants’ overdue rent and utility bills are being paid off became even more compelling late Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a federal moratorum on evictions. States, cities and counties have until 2025 to spend some of the dollars, but the federal government hoped for 65% of the first tranche of aid – $15.7 billion total – to go out before Oct. 1. Although the state’s largest city, Wichita, has hit that target with its own program, the Kansas housing agency, like such agencies in most states and most cities and counties with their own programs, was far short at the end of July, the U.S. Treasury Department reported last week. “It’s just not getting the money to people fast enough,” said Dustin Hare, an organizer for the tenant advocacy group Rent Zero Kansas.
Frankfort: U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie and several other elected Republicans joined a “freedom rally” Saturday, where they disparaged COVID-19 restrictions and Gov. Andy Beshear in front of a supportive crowd. Massie, Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon, and state Reps. Josh Calloway, Savannah Maddox and Felicia Rabourn gathered on the steps of the State Capitol and took turns giving speeches to a crowd of at least 300 people. The rally came at the end of a week when Kentucky repeatedly broke grim records for the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19. “COVID is a serious disease,” Massie said during his speech, noting he has known people who died from it. “But there’s another disease, another virus, in the state of Kentucky. … It’s called the Beshear virus.” The congressman joked he thought former Gov. Matt Bevin had gotten rid of the “Beshear virus” when he succeeded former Gov. Steve Beshear as the state’s top official. But then the commonwealth ended up catching the “Andy variant,” he said, referring to Andy Beshear, the son of Steve Beshear who followed in his father’s footsteps. Symptoms of the “Andy variant” include “loss of balance in your bank account” and confusion, Massie joked. At one point he derisively referred to masks as “face diapers.”
Baton Rouge: A man is celebrating his 80th birthday by cycling 80 miles a day for 10 days straight. His personal challenge began last Tuesday and will continue through this Thursday. Phil Baker’s actual birthday is Aug. 28. He travels a route that largely uses River Road, with some variations, to take him 40 miles from home and then 40 miles back. He leaves his house at 5:15 a.m. and gets back about 10:30 a.m. A fellow cyclist is riding with him each day. Baker, a lifelong athlete who’s competed in Ironman triathlons, began training for his birthday-week rides about a year ago. He had been walking and hiking up to 20 miles a day, to take a break from cycling, then picked up the bike again, starting his training by traveling 10 miles in an hour, then slowly increasing his speed over longer periods of time. “I got up from 10 miles to 20, 25 miles, then 30 and 35 miles, and up to 40 and 50 miles for a longer length of riding,” Baker said. “It wasn’t all done in an hour, but the hour goal was a way to start.” Baker said he also bought a “brand new, beautiful bike” – a Canyon bike he admires that’s used by one of the teams in the Tour de France. A local bike shop helped Baker adjust the bike seat and handle bars to fit him, he said. “It’s all about where you are on the bike,” Baker said. “Fit is everything.”
Augusta: The state’s annual bear hunt gets started for the season Monday as hunters prepare for another year of pandemic-era fall hunting. The Maine bear hunt runs from Monday to Nov. 27, though most of the season takes place between now and Sept. 25. That’s the period of the season in which it’s legal to hunt bears using bait. The season kicked off Saturday with Youth Bear Day, which is reserved for young hunters. The state’s other big fall hunting seasons for deer, moose and wild turkey will begin later in the fall. Maine officials have encouraged more hunting during the pandemic because it’s an outdoor activity that easily lends itself to social distancing.
Williamsport: A select group of inmates is being trained by national experts to restore weathered and disturbed gravestones at a historic cemetery. Officials announced the initiative Friday in Williamsport, saying it would provide the inmates an opportunity to learn stone masonry skills that pay between $20 to $35 an hour in Maryland. The work will take place at Riverview Cemetery, where more than a dozen headstones were damaged last month in a case still under investigation. The plan outlined Friday also calls for inmates to clean all the gravestones and reset them, as many have become destabilized over the years. Craig Rickets, 54, was one of the inmates from the Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown who has been involved. Of all the jobs he’s done through prison training programs – including landscaping, shipping and handling, and janitorial work – Rickets said restoring gravestones was the most “productive.” “It makes me feel like I have new life,” he said.
Boston: A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit challenging a requirement that students at the University of Massachusetts campuses in Boston and Lowell be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to return to campus. Students at the schools sued in July, asking the judge to find the vaccination mandates to be unconstitutional. The UMass Boston student also alleged she was improperly denied a religious exemption. U.S. District Judge Denise Casper said the schools have a strong interest in reducing the spread of the disease. And she found that despite the students’ assertion that the policy is “arbitrary or not based in science,” the schools “based the decision upon both medical and scientific evidence and research and guidance and thus is at least rationally related to these legitimate interests.” The judge also noted that students who refuse to get vaccinated may still take online classes or defer their enrollment a semester. But even if the policy meant they would be deprived of a UMass education, their argument still fails, she said. “Moreover, the balance of equities tips in Defendants’ favor given the strong public interest here that they are promoting – preventing further spread of COVID-19 on campus, a virus which has infected and taken the lives of thousands of Massachusetts residents,” she wrote.
Eagle Harbor: A group of Michigan Tech University alumni have submitted the winning bid for a former U.S. Air Force radar station in the Upper Peninsula that they hope can become a tourist destination. The bid was $227,000, The Daily Mining Gazette reports, citing a statement from Keweenaw County, which controls the property. The former base, which has more than 100 acres in Eagle Harbor Township, is known locally as Mount Horace Greeley. For nearly 40 years, it served as a radar station during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The winning bidder was identified as Zach Garner of Perry, who said he submitted an offer on behalf of himself and Michigan Tech alumni who are engineers. The school is 30 miles away in Houghton. “We are passionate about the Keweenaw Peninsula and respectful of the deep history rooted in the area, including this site itself,” said a letter that accompanied the bid. The goal is to address any environmental issues at the former base, employ local residents and turn the land into a tourism spot, the letter said. The group said it has “dreamt for years about the prospect of turning the aforementioned property into a destination that anyone and everyone can enjoy.”
Climax: Some consider it a geological wonder. A crack in the soil of a bean field in northwestern Minnesota has caused the ground to collapse 25 feet, creating a quarter-mile-long ravine. Wayne and Erllene Erickson are the fourth generation on the family farm near Climax in Polk County and say they’ve never seen anything like it, WDAY-TV reports. “(It’s) kind of scary. It is sad, sad to see it,” said Erllene Erickson as she surveyed the fallen bean field. “Mother Nature does what she wants.” The fallen land is pushing under the river bank, sending more dirt into the Red River. Wayne Erickson is trying to make sense of what happened on his farm. “When I drove out here, it looked like the Grand Canyon. We didn’t have all that slumping going on; it was just straight down. Straight up and down,” Erickson said. Geologists with the University of North Dakota say the dry weather, a drop in water levels on the Red River and recent rains can form a perfect storm for something like this to occur. Crevasses are still forming as the land continues shifting. Soil experts were expected to visit the field to study the natural phenomenon.
Jackson: The board governing the state’s public universities voted Friday not to require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 despite the objections of the two medical doctors who are part of the board. During a special meeting, nine members of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees said the vaccine should not be mandated. Many said they support students getting the COVID-19 vaccine, but shots should be voluntary. Dr. Alfred McNair Jr. and Dr. Steven Cunningham were the only two board members who voted to mandate inoculations. “This volunteer thing is ridiculous,” said McNair, who is chief of medical staff at Biloxi Regional Medical Center. “If they had polio, it wouldn’t be a volunteer thing.” Mississippi’s public universities already mandate that students be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella, according to Institutions of Higher Learning bylaws. Students studying in a health-related field must be vaccinated against hepatitis B. McNair said cases among young people are rising in the state, and he’s seeing children hospitalized with more severe symptoms than ever before. He said people who recover from the coronavirus can have long-term side effects.
Kansas City: Intensive care units are nearly full across the area, creating challenges for hospitals battling to keep up with the high number of COVID-19 patients. The Kansas City Star reports 215 ICU beds in the region were in use last week – the most since the onset of the pandemic – and that number has grown almost every day since. As of Wednesday, 224 people were hospitalized in ICUs, according to hospital data tracked by the Mid-America Regional Council, a regional planning agency. The data includes hospitals in Jackson and Clay counties in Missouri and Wyandotte and Johnson counties in Kansas. Kansas City isn’t unique in Missouri. Data posted Friday on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard showed 690 ICU patients across the state among 2,395 people hospitalized with COVID-19. On Friday, Gov. Mike Parson rescinded the COVID-19 related state of emergency that was put in place March 13, 2020, and replaced it with a narrower state of emergency that focuses on the health care system. Parson, a Republican, said in a statement that the changes acknowledge the progress the state has made when it comes to the pandemic, particularly now that vaccines are available. But he continued regulatory and other procedures that will allow the still-struggling health care system to respond to increased caseloads.
Helena: Several parents are suing Missoula public schools over a mask requirement as the school year is set to begin amid a new wave of COVID-19 cases. An attorney representing parents of students in Missoula said the requirement is in violation of the state’s constitution, which guarantees individuals the right to make their own medical decisions. Lawyer Quentin Rhoades said Thursday that there isn’t sufficient scientific evidence that children wearing masks prevents the spread of the coronavirus for the government to override that individual right. Kevin Twidwell, an attorney at the Kaleva law office representing the schools, said they disagree with the allegation that face coverings violate the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. An online fundraiser organized to cover the costs of filing the lawsuit raised $10,000 as of Thursday. Matt Stivers, who donated $100, wrote that his son has difficulty breathing while wearing a mask because of a heart defect. “Kids need to see each others’ faces and deserve a normal experience in school. They are being deprived of non-verbal communication with other students,” Stivers wrote on the fundraiser page. The Missoula County Public Schools Board of Trustees voted earlier this month to approve the mask mandate for the first six weeks of school.
Grand Island: The Nebraska State Fair has kicked off and will offer a full slate of attractions and music a year after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the annual event’s concerts, carnival and other draws. Besides the rides, gooey fried food and livestock shows, this year’s fair in Grand Island will feature a bevy of concerts, including Modern West featuring Kevin Costner on Thursday, BandaLos Sebastianes on Friday and Jon Pardi on Saturday. Warrant and Skid Row, both wildly popular “hair bands” in the 1980s, will perform Tuesday in the Events Center. The theme of this year’s state fair is “Nothing More Nebraskan,” and the event will run through Sept. 6. Executive Director Bill Ogg said this year’s fair has more 4-H entries and FFA exhibitors than it had in 2019. “So there’s a rebound effect,” Ogg told the Grand Island Independent. “We should have one of the strongest participation years in 4-H and FFA.”
Las Vegas: An equestrian supply store has sold out of a drug primarily used to deworm horses that vaccine skeptics are peddling as a remedy to the coronavirus. V & V Tack and Feed no longer has any of the drug, ivermectin, KTNV-Las Vegas reports. The store in the northwestern Las Vegas metropolitan area fields multiple calls daily about whether it has the drug in stock and now requires customers to show proof that they own horses to buy it. Store associate Shelley Smith told the TV station that people coming into the store have told her they were taking the drug for coronavirus and experiencing side effects including loss of vision. “You should not be taking this product. This is not for humans to take. This is to treat parasites in horses,” Smith said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a health advisory Thursday urging people against taking ivermectin, saying that poison control centers had experienced a five-fold increase in calls for symptoms ranging from hallucinations and confusion to gastrointestinal issues. The Southern Nevada Health District warned people Wednesday that, although the drug could be used to treat conditions like head lice and worms in humans, taking doses manufactured for horses could result in hospitalization or death.
Concord: The New Hampshire Lottery generated a record $518.5 million in total sales in the fiscal year ending June 30, officials said. It surpassed its previous record from the last fiscal year of $392.2 million. “With an expanded menu of games, new offerings like KENO 603, sports betting through our collaboration with DraftKings, NH iLottery, and a consistent focus on engaging our current audience and tapping into new markets, we feel confident we have positioned the New Hampshire Lottery for continued success and growth as we look toward the future,” Charlie McIntyre, the lottery’s executive director, said in a statement. The New Hampshire Lottery and DraftKings launched mobile sports betting in the state in December 2019, and retail locations followed.
Trenton: A former government official who says she is a sexual assault survivor is demanding that the Republican gubernatorial candidate stop using her story as a “political prop” in a campaign video that bashes Gov. Phil Murphy. Katie Brennan, who has said she was sexually assaulted by a peer while they both worked on Murphy’s behalf in 2017, said Friday that she wasn’t consulted before Jack Ciattarelli launched PhilMurphyDoesNotCare.com. The site prominently features a video of Brennan publicly testifying before legislators and charges that Murphy uses women as “political props.” She said in a tweet earlier she wasn’t a prop or a pawn herself. “Take it down,” she said Friday. “I wasn’t consulted prior to the creation of the website and the ad campaign, and had I been, would have expressed my displeasure with it. It looks like an endorsement of the Ciattarelli campaign, which is not my intent,” she said in a phone interview. “There is a way to hold people accountable and talk about the mistakes of the past and what their vision and plans for betterment and equity and reform are in the future without dragging me into the fight in a way that I certainly did not ask to be.”
Albuquerque: The state is flush with cash due to a quick recovery of oil and gas markets and higher-than-expected gross receipts tax revenues as consumers spend federal pandemic relief checks and tap into other recovery aid, state finance officials and legislative analysts said. The officials briefed a key panel of state lawmakers Friday and said while revenues are expected to hit record levels for the next fiscal year, the pandemic remains a risk factor that still has the potential to derail economic recovery if cases continue to surge or shutdowns are imposed again. While widespread shutdowns are not likely, the forecast shows what analysts described as a significant upward revision in recurring revenues for the current fiscal year – up more than $632 million from estimates made just six months ago. Nearly $1.4 billion in new money is expected for the 2023 fiscal year, marking growth of nearly 19%. That means lawmakers will have more money than ever before to spend on education, roads, public safety and other government programs. It also means more money is expected to be funneled into the state’s permanent endowments. Some lawmakers warned that the federal recovery aid won’t be around forever and urged others on the Legislative Finance Committee to keep building the state’s reserves.
New York: Cutting-edge DNA technology will be used to analyze the remains of more than 1,100 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center that have yet to be identified. Newsday reported Saturday that the New York City medical examiner’s office has been approved to use the forensic method known as Next Generation Sequencing, which is already being used by the Department of Defense to identify remains from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. Thousands of human remains from Sept. 11 have yet to be identified because they’re too damaged and degraded to be analyzed by conventional methods. They’re currently being stored at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center site. The medical examiner’s office could begin using the process before the end of the year, Mark Desire, chief of the office’s missing persons and body identification unit, told the newspaper. While the remains of about 1,600 of the 2,754 World Trace Center victims have been identified, the process has slowed over the years, and the last identification was made in 2019. The medical examiner’s office began studying Next Generation Sequencing in 2018, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the approval process until this year.
Raleigh: A panel of state trial judges refused Friday to halt its order restoring voting rights for tens of thousands of residents convicted of felonies whose current punishments don’t include prison time. The three judges denied the delay sought by attorneys for top Republican lawmakers on the same day the panel’s majority filed an explanation about why they authorized voting access for potentially 56,000 offenders in North Carolina otherwise unable to cast ballots. One of the judges announced that decision earlier last week, in advance of a written order. GOP lawmakers wanted the temporary delay while they appeal the ruling. A trial concluded last week in a lawsuit filed in 2019 by several civil rights groups and ex-offenders challenging state law on the restoration of voting rights. The two Superior Court judges who agreed to issue Friday’s preliminary injunction wrote that the harm the offenders alleged they would experience by having to wait another election without voting was “both substantial and irreparable.” Friday’s order said election officials can’t deny voter registration to any convicted felon who is on probation, parole or post-release supervision.
Bismarck: Human cases of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus are on the rise in the state, with the severity of symptoms resulting in some hospitalizations, according to health officials. So far, five people have confirmed cases, with four in the hospital, as well as two of six people with pending cases. The confirmed cases are in Cass, Mercer, Sargeant and Stutsman counties, the Bismarck Tribune reports. Common symptoms of the virus include fever, headache, body aches or rash. People with severe cases may experience a stiff neck, altered mental status, paralysis, coma and possibly death, health officials said. Most people infected with West Nile experience no symptoms. The number of West Nile cases in North Dakota varies year by year, with seven confirmed human cases last year and nine in 2019. But in 2018 there were 204. “Peak WNV activity historically has occurred in August,” state Department of Health epidemiologist Amanda Bakken said. “This is the time to be vigilant and take precautions, not just when people are aware mosquitoes are biting them.” Three of the five confirmed cases in people this year have affected the nervous system. “Because our cases have had particularly severe symptoms … it is especially important that people protect themselves,” Bakken said.
Columbus: The state’s correctional agency terminated seven employees Friday after officials say prison guards used excessive and unjustified force against a Black inmate before he died in custody in February. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction sent a notice of removal to five corrections officers, a supervisor and a licensed nurse following an investigation into the in-custody death of 55-year-old Michael McDaniel. Security footage released by the agency in July showed McDaniel collapsing on his own and being taken down to the floor by prison guards at least 16 times before he died at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient, a Columbus suburb, on Feb. 6. “We’re responsible for what happened in that video,” director Annette Chambers-Smith told reporters in July, after releasing surveillance footage of the incident. “There is no question about that.” One of the officers involved, Heath Causey, is accused in the records released Friday of performing a “take-down” of McDaniel while the inmate was being escorted outside without shoes and a coat and while wearing a ripped T-shirt, “causing his body to veer off the walking path and land face-down in a snow-covered area.”
Oklahoma City: The city must pay nearly $1 million to five attorneys who successfully challenged an anti-panhandling ordinance adopted by the city, a federal judge ruled last week. U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton issued the order approving 2,474 billable hours that attorneys spent on the case for a total of $986,350. A federal appeals court determined in 2020 that the ordinance placing restrictions on panhandling on street medians is an unconstitutional violation of free speech. Plaintiffs included two homeless men who used the medians to panhandle, including one who sold issues of the Curbside Chronicle newspaper, two joggers, a journalist, and a community activist who has used medians to protest and erect signs for his legislative candidacy. Several attorneys for the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union were among those who represented the plaintiffs. “We hope this fee amount will deter Oklahoma City from violating the constitutional rights of Oklahomans and encourage them to consider the concerns of the community in the future,” Megan Lambert, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Oklahoma, said in a statement. “We will continue our fight for the free speech rights of all Oklahomans.”
Springfield: A COVID-19 outbreak at an assisted living facility that has infected 64 people and killed five began with an unvaccinated worker, public health officials said. The outbreak at Gateway Living in Springfield began July 5. The facility has 105 employees and 101 residents; only 63% of the staff and 82% of the residents are completely vaccinated. Lane County Public Health spokesman Jason Davis said the outbreak began with an unvaccinated employee who worked while infectious. The outbreak arrived as an immense surge of coronavirus cases hit Oregon, driven by the especially contagious delta variant as well as vaccine obstinacy in some quarters. COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased 990% in Oregon since July 9, according to health officials. Many hospitals have canceled elective surgeries, and some patients are housed in hallways instead of rooms. More than 90% of the state’s intensive care and hospital beds are full, and health officials say the overwhelming majority of people hospitalized are unvaccinated. The state is deploying crisis teams of hundreds of nurses, respiratory therapists, paramedics and nursing assistants to the hardest hit regions. Officials in Tillamook County said Friday they no longer have capacity to store the bodies of the dead and are asking for refrigerated morgue trucks.
Pittsburgh: A juvenile detention center in western Pennsylvania will close next month after state officials revoked its license. Allegheny County Manager William McKain says the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center in Pittsburgh will close Sept. 18. Youths being housed there will likely be transferred to other facilities the state operates, but specific plans have not yet been disclosed. The state’s human services department notified the county Friday that the license for the 46-year-old facility was being revoked. Officials cited the center’s “continued failure to follow regulations and failure to improve on past violations.” The Shuman Center’s fourth provisional license was issued July 1 and was set to expire Jan. 1, 2022. Provisional licenses are issued to facilities where violations are found so that the sites have time to address the problems, officials said. Shuman has been operating under a provisional license since December 2015. The latest violations, stemming from an investigation between June 16 and July 1, included a heroin overdose and the theft of $140 from a nurse’s purse when a child was left unattended. Twenty children and young adults were being held at the facility as of last Monday. They range in age from 14 to 20.
Providence: The state has made it easier for retired nurses and other health care workers to reenter the workforce without affecting their pension. Gov. Dan McKee signed the executive order Thursday to make sure there are enough health care professionals during the pandemic. Many hospitals have experienced staffing shortages, and there are concerns about another resurgence of coronavirus cases caused by the delta variant. If a retiree is determined by the state Department of Health to have the skills necessary to address the pandemic, the agency can provide a written certification that their reemployment is of finite duration and is necessitated by the good faith belief that their skills are needed, the order says. McKee previously said that workers at state-licensed health care facility are required to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 1. There have been protests against the requirement. The state is also preparing a field hospital Cranston for possible reopening if it is needed to help handle a surge in new cases. The site originally opened in December and was taken out of service in March but kept stocked with medical equipment and other supplies.
Columbia: The daily numbers of new COVID-19 cases are reaching levels only seen in the worst days of the pandemic before vaccines were widely available, leading hospitals to warn that unless the spike in cases is curbed soon, there will be dire consequences. There were 6,697 new cases of the disease reported Friday in South Carolina, the Department of Health and Environmental Control reported. The only days with more cases reported since the pandemic started 18 months ago were 7,680 cases on Jan. 6 and 7,450 on Jan. 8. “The expected surge in new cases once children returned to school across South Carolina and the proliferation of the highly transmissible delta variant has fueled a spike that requires our attention and legislative consideration of the removal of masking restrictions,” the health agency wrote in a statement. The Republican-dominated General Assembly in June passed an item in the state budget threating to take state money away from school districts that require masks. Back then, South Carolina was averaging 150 new COVID-19 cases a day. Now that average is above 4,500 new cases. Republican Gov. Henry McMaster is one of the biggest defenders of the mask ban and hasn’t directly addressed the pandemic since Aug. 9.
Rapid City: Four universities are partnering on a new center to disrupt criminal networks. The schools will use a $4 million state grant to create the Center for Understanding and Disrupting the Illicit Economy. South Dakota Mines in Rapid City, South Dakota State University in Brookings, Dakota State University in Madison, and the University of South Dakota in Vermillion are involved in the project. Dr. Jon Kellar, a professor at South Dakota Mines, will lead a team focused on identifying counterfeit goods, South Dakota Public Broadcasting reports. Kellar said it’s a widespread problem that can have big implications. “Let’s say you buy a counterfeit purse – you think, well, I got a good deal, and it looks good. And, well, you probably think it’s a victimless crime,” he said. “Well, in fact, those products are being used by terrorists to generate cash to fund their networks.” Kellar said it’s important to be a conscientious consumer. “The first rule of thumb is if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” he said. “You’ll notice some of the packaging may not look right; there may be misspellings. Or instead of a regular branded box, it comes in a white bag with some cheese cloth.” Researchers will also focus on tracking fake pharmaceuticals and exploring the dark web and other networks used by criminals.
Nashville: State House Speaker Cameron Sexton has announced the members selected to serve on the House’s redistricting committee. According to a news release, Sexton’s office on Thursday said the committee will include eight Republicans and four Democrats. Deputy Speaker Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, will chair the committee, and Speaker Pro Tempore Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, will be the committee’s vice chair. “The makeup of this panel is representative of the distinctive voices of Tennesseans from across all three grand divisions of our state,” Sexton, R-Crossville, said in a statement. Lawmakers will use newly released U.S. Census Bureau data to redraw state and congressional districts currently dominated by Republicans. The proposals will be taken up in the 2022 legislative session that begins in January. Republican Gov. Bill Lee has veto power over the finalized plan, but he’s not expected to put up many objections.
Austin: The University of Texas is providing cash and other prizes to encourage UT community members to get COVID-19 shots. UT students, staff and faculty who have received at least one vaccine dose at any location can upload their vaccine card on UT’s portal to be eligible to enter into the university’s weekly prize drawing. The drawings will occur from Sept. 3 to Oct. 8, and the prizes will vary each week, according to UT’s Protect Texas website. Prizes for students include up to $10,000 in cash, gift cards, parking permits, wireless headphones, tickets to a home football game with UT President Jay Hartzell, and various other prizes. Faculty and staff members can win cash prizes up to $500, coolers, tumblers and the opportunity to take a tour of the new Moody Center with UT athletic director Chris Del Conte. UT is encouraging but not requiring community members to get vaccinated and wear masks. Gov. Greg Abbott has prohibited agencies that receive public funding in Texas from instituting vaccine and mask requirements. UT spokeswoman Eliska Padilla said the incentive program, which was announced Thursday and is funded by gifts from a variety of donors, aims to increase the vaccination rates of 18- to 24-year-olds. She said UT has no plans to incentivize vaccinations after Oct. 8.
St. George: Hospitals operated by Intermountain Healthcare have hit 100% capacity at their intensive care units because of increasing numbers of patients with COVID-19, and doctors and nurses are growing increasingly frustrated. During a live update Friday, Dr. Brandon Webb, an Intermountain Healthcare infectious disease physician, said health care workers are seeing two growing trends: children with COVID-19 and severe infection in those seeming to be young and healthy. “Children’s Hospitals are seeing more COVID cases this round and more children coming in because of it,” Webb said. Statewide, 16 children have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in the past week, according to the Utah Department of Health, with 1,132 children ages 5 to 13 having tested positive. There were 467 people hospitalized overall as of Friday, including 184 who were in intensive care units. One reason that more children are contracting COVID could be the high amounts of exposure in classrooms and social gatherings, Webb said. However, the different coronavirus variants have also played a role in higher infection rates across the board, not just in children. “Delta is simply a different disease in some ways than the other variants,” Webb said.
Norwich: Farmers and their crews from around the state are ready to battle in the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont’s sixth annual Farmer Olympics. The event will be held Tuesday at Honeyfield Farm in Norwich. Teams will compete in skills ranging from physical to cerebral to ridiculous, organizers said. Among the past events were the zucchini relay, squash shot put and blindfolded seeding. Awards will go to the best-performing teams. “The Farmer Olympics are all about joy, celebration and connection, and this year, after the challenges farmers faced over the last 18 months, this event is really needed,” said Zea Luce, NOFA-VT’s events and engagement coordinator. Farms can register teams through NOFA-VT.
Lynchburg: Liberty University announced a temporary campuswide quarantine Thursday amid a spike in COVID-19 cases. The quarantine is set to begin Monday and last until Sept. 10, news outlets report. The university has about 15,000 students and 5,000 faculty or staff on campus. There were 159 known, active cases among students, faculty and staff as of Wednesday, according to the university’s online COVID-19 dashboard. Of those cases, 124 cases were among students. It was a sharp increase from the prior week, when 40 students and staff tested positive for the coronavirus as students were welcomed back to campus. It also surpasses the highest confirmed active caseload last September, when at least 141 people on campus tested positive, and nearly 1,200 people were quarantined. As the university began its fall semester last week, the university, which doesn’t require vaccination, lifted building capacity restrictions and distancing and masking requirements. The university changed its protocol late Thursday to enact the campuswide quarantine, moving classes online and suspending large indoor gatherings. Outdoor events will continue as scheduled, and worship services will move to the stadium.
Seattle: A state judge struck a measure on homelessness from the November ballot even as the city remains mired in a long-term humanitarian crisis. The so-called Compassion Seattle proposal would direct the city to provide 2,000 units of emergency or permanent housing within a year and require the city to ensure parks, playgrounds and sidewalks remain clear of encampments. King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer said Friday that it would conflict with state law and usurp the City Council’s power. Shaffer said she and other voters might like what the measure’s proponents are trying to do, but it exceeds what can be accomplished through a local charter amendment. “You can’t amend a city charter to conflict with state law,” Shaffer said. “I like this charter amendment as a voter. But as a judge, it cannot stand.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness and the Transit Riders Union sued to block the measure, officially known as Charter Amendment 29. They argued that it is beyond the scope of local initiative power and violates state law on how local governments can address homelessness.
Logan: Guided tours of elk have returned to southern West Virginia. The West Virginia State Parks system announced that viewing tours will be held on weekends starting Sept. 11 and ending Oct. 24. They will start and finish at the Chief Logan State Park lodge in Logan County, the parks system said in a news release. There also will be a few midweek evening tours. Morning tours start at 5:30 a.m.. and evening tours start at 4 p.m. Each tour is limited to 12 people. The tours typically will last four hours, depending on weather and viewing conditions. Groups typically walk or hike up to 3 miles. Tickets cost $30 and can be purchased online. Elk have been transplanted over the past five years at the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan County. They were brought from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in western Kentucky and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Milwaukee: A suburban school district is meeting to possibly reconsider opting out of a federally funded free meal program, a move that met with widespread criticism from parents after school board members said they were concerned participating students would “become spoiled.” The Waukesha school board planned a special meeting Monday to discuss its participation in the program, after parents and other advocates put pressure on the board to reconsider. The Alliance for Education in Waukesha held a rally outside the district office Friday to call for reinstating the program. Administrators opted into the supplemental program last year during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the school board has decided to end it. “As we get back to whatever you want to believe normal means, we have decisions to make,” Joseph Como, president of the school board, said in a meeting. “I would say this is part of normalization.” Board member Karin Rajnicek said the free program made it easy for families to “become spoiled.” Darren Clark, assistant superintendent for business services, said he feared there would be a “slow addiction” to the service. Waukesha students from low-income families will still be able to apply for free or reduced-price meals under the traditional National School Lunch Program.
Casper: A judge is offering defendants a break in their court fines if they agree to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. Natrona County Circuit Court Judge Steven Brown began offering the deal earlier this summer after seeing vaccination rates stagnate. Less than 40% of eligible people in Wyoming are fully vaccinated, putting it among the bottom five states in vaccination rate. The city of Casper has a community service program that works with courts to offer a $10 reduction in fines per hour of work for local charities, nonprofits and other organizations. Getting vaccinated is “just another form of community service,” Brown said Thursday. One woman making an initial appearance in Circuit Court on Monday was offered a $200 reduction in her $560 fine if she was fully vaccinated within 30 days. The fine would be reduced when she returned with proof of receiving the shot. Brown said he doesn’t require vaccination, just incentivizes it, noting other states hold cash drawings, some with million-dollar prizes. The court doesn’t track how many people have accepted the deal. The two other judges in the circuit have not been offering fine reductions for vaccinations.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports